PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.
Boo Weekley is an anomaly on the PGA Tour. He doesn’t fit the mold of the typical tour professional: the prim-and-proper, well-dressed 20- or 30-something with a classic swing.
Instead, the Florida native looks a little disheveled — and, judging by the gray in his hair and on his unshaven face, a little older than most on the PGA Tour.
But what Weekley lacks in grace and style usually is made up for with solid ball-striking. When combined with a hot putter, it gets Weekley in the mix — which happened during the first round at the Honda Classic on Thursday.
Shooting a 4-under-par 66, Weekley produced one of his best outings on the PGA Tour in some time. That left him two shots back of leader Camilo Villegas.
“It’s a day when I got a little more warmed up,” Weekley said, addressing how his round progressed from a 2-over start to a string of five birdies. “Got a little more comfortable with what I was doing and what I’ve been practicing, and it just turned out like you see. It turned out good.“
For Weekley, the strength of his round was on the greens with 27 putts. More important, he ranked fifth in strokes gained Thursday during the first round — thanks to putts made of 11, 19, 17, 11 and 25 feet.
The success on the greens could be a sign that Weekley is solving a problem he has faced for some time.
Weekley’s two career wins came at the RBC Heritage in 2007 and 2008. Yet since that last win, which helped lift him to the top 30 on the 2008 money list, Weekley has struggled. He fell to 85th in money earned in 2009, 111th in 2010 and 180th in 2011. Last year, he finished 108th to earn his tour card this season.
Making cuts, yet not succeeding on the weekend, has left Weekley looking for more. In his first four events in 2013, Weekley posted a scoring average of 69.375 in the first two rounds — but on the weekend the scoring average escalated to 71.333. His best finish of tied for 34th came at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January.
Weekley’s performance often is tied to the club that has consistently been a problem: his putter.
In 2013, Weekley ranks 18th in both driving distance and accuracy and 29th in greens in regulation, but 171st in strokes gained putting.
The poor performance on weekends did not go unnoticed by his coach, Scott Hamilton out of Cartersville Country Club north of Atlanta.
Last week, Hamilton and another pupil, Steven Bowditch, were discussing Weekley’s issue of inconsistent putting.
Both figured that the SAM PuttLab that was part of Hamilton’s putting lab could be the answer. Still learning how to use the package’s complicated software, Hamilton pulled out the instruction manual with Bowditch — and found an application that would explain to Weekley how his putting stroke, which is more like a pop stroke versus a smooth transition to the ball, is his biggest problem on the greens.
“I ain’t got an idea if somebody tells me; I’ve got to see it,” Weekley said of the application on the SAM that showed him the issues with his stroke. “If I feel it, then I kind of get it in my memory, my mind, that side of it.”
Another training aid: a putter with its grip cut in half allows Weekley to take his right hand out of the stroke.
Hamilton said he came up with the idea lying in bed one night. He wanted Weekley to grip the metal shaft of the club with his lower hand to take that hand out of the stroke somewhat and help eliminate the pop stroke.
The last piece to the puzzle was to get Weekley to slow down, take some deep breaths and ease into the putt.
“I’m trying to learn to be a little more patient, and that’s my hardest thing is trying to be patient because everything I’ve always done has been fast,” Weekley said after his round. “So with the breathing, it slowed me down, it’s got me back a little bit to where — not where I’m slow, but it’s got me slowing down and more relaxed about what I’m trying to do, thinking about it.”
Of all the changes Weekley made coming into this week, the breathing was the easiest. An avid hunter, Weekley has found success using the technique in the wild.
“When I’m shooting my guns long-range, I have to take a deep breath and exhale and blow it out, and then pull the trigger,” Weekley said. “And that’s what we try to work on a little bit.”
Transferring the theory to the golf course, Weekley hopes to make cuts — and test it during weekend rounds.